Armed pro-Russian activists stand guard at the entrance of
the seized regional government headquarters in Luhansk,
eastern Ukraine. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
Pro-Russian rebels have shot down a Ukrainian helicopter
in fierce fighting near the eastern town of Slaviansk, and Kiev
has drafted police special forces to the southwestern port city
of Odessa to halt a feared westward spread of rebellion.
Ukraine said the Odessa force, based on "civil activists",
would replace local police who had failed to tackle rebel
actions at the weekend. Its dispatch was a clear signal from
Kiev that, while tackling rebellion in the east, it would
vigorously resist any sign of a slide to a broader civil war.
Odessa, with its ethnic mix from Russians to Ukrainians,
Georgians to Tatars a cultural contrast to the pro-Russian
east, was quiet on Monday. Ukrainian flags flew at half mast
for funerals of some of the dozens killed in clashes on
But in the east, fighting intensified around the pro-Russian
stronghold of Slaviansk, a city of 118,000, where rebel
fighters ambushed Ukrainian forces early in the day.
The Interior Ministry said five paramilitary police were
killed. Separatists said four of their number had also died.
The sound of an air-raid siren could be heard in the centre
of Slaviansk, and a church bell rang in the main square.
Russia's foreign ministry called on Kiev to "stop the
bloodshed, withdraw forces and finally sit down at the
negotiating table". It also published an 80-page report
detailing "widespread and gross human rights violations" in
Ukraine over the past six months for which it blamed the new
government and its Western allies.
CONCERNS FOR KIEV
Russia denies Ukrainian and Western charges it is seeking to
undermine the country of 45 million and using special forces
to lead the insurgency, as it did before annexing Crimea in
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he
feared neither side could now control forces unleashed.
"I'm convinced we are struggling against a situation that has
taken on a dynamic of its own. There are groups in eastern
Ukraine that are not listening to either Kiev ... or Moscow."
The self-declared pro-Russian mayor of Slaviansk Vyacheslav
Ponomarev told Reuters by telephone: "(The Ukrainians) are
deploying ever more forces here. Recently there was a
parachute drop... For us, they are not military, but
Ukraine's Defence Ministry said rebels had shot down a
military helicopter, the fourth since Friday, with heavy
machine gun fire. The helicopter crashed into a river and the
crew was rescued but there were no details of their
Diana, 15, who lives near Slaviansk in a single-storey house
at the strategic junction of the road between Kharkiv and
Rostov, said she saw Ukrainian tanks fire on rebel cars. A
fuel tank at a petrol station exploded and fighters fired at
"My father was injured in the head by glass splinters. It's
terrifying. There's just nowhere to live now. Everything is
broken, our television, our computer; they shot at our car."
The violence in Odessa marked a watershed for Ukraine.
It increased fears that trouble could spread to the capital
in the approach to Friday's celebrations of the Soviet
victory in World War Two, an event that could kindle tensions
over Kiev's relations with its former communist masters in
Over 40 people were killed in Friday's clashes, the worst
since pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich fled to Moscow
in February amid protests by Ukrainians demanding closer ties
to Europe. Most were pro-Russians killed when the building
they occupied was set ablaze by petrol bombs.
It is not clear who started the fire, but Moscow accuses Kiev
of inciting violence.
On Sunday, hundreds besieged a police station where fellow
pro-Moscow activists were held after street fighting that led
up to the house blaze. Police freed 67 of them, infuriating
"The police in Odessa acted outrageously," Interior Minister
Arseny Avakov wrote on his Facebook page. "The 'honour of the
uniform' will offer no cover."
He said he had sent the newly formed Kiev-1 force to Odessa
after sacking the entire Odessa force leadership.
The units Avakov referred to emerged partly from the uprising
against Yanukovich early this year.
That could fuel anger among the government's opponents, who
accuse it of promoting "fascist" militant groups, such as
Right Sector, that took part in the Kiev uprising over the
Alexander, a man in his mid-20s who said he took part in the
anti-Kiev actions, agreed with Avakov that police had done
"But this special new battalion, they're stormtroopers from
Western Ukraine who'll be hunting our people all over the
ODESSA'S ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE
Loss of control of Odessa would be a huge economic and
political blow for Ukraine, a country the size of France that
borders several NATO countries and aspires to join the
military alliance, a primary source of concern for the
A city of a million people, with a grand history as the
cosmopolitan southern gateway for the tsars' empire, Odessa
has two ports, including an oil terminal, and is a transport
Many on the city's streets were shocked by the violence.
"People who brought this to our city were not and are not and
will not be true citizens of Odessa," said Alexei, 40, an
ethnic Russian. "We are Odessa, and this is a special place."
Rabbi Fichel Chichelnitsky, an official with Odessa's
70,000-strong Jewish community, said: "I'm hoping these
deaths serve as a stern warning to everyone that this is not
The chant "Odessa is a Russian city!" was heard at
pro-Russian demonstrations through the weekend.
Many Russians agree. Founded by Empress Catherine the Great,
it has played a key role in Russian imperial history.
Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein set scenes of a
massacre of civilians during a 1905 uprising on the grand
steps that sweep down to the port. The images from "The
Battleship Potemkin" are among the most famous in cinema
Diplomacy continued over the weekend.
Germany said on Sunday it was pressing for a second meeting
in Geneva to bring Russia and Ukraine together with the
United States and European Union. Moscow and Kiev accuse each
other of wrecking an earlier accord on April 17.
Berlin said it was doing what it could to make sure a
presidential election planned for May 25 went ahead.
"The election would be not just a means for stabilisation but
also a strong signal for a better future for Ukraine,"
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
He said a referendum planned by pro-Russian separatists in
the eastern city of Donetsk, where rebels have proclaimed a
"Donetsk People's Republic", would only increase tensions.
Certainly, failure by Kiev authorities to conduct the
election in rebel-controlled eastern cities would give Moscow
grounds to question the legitimacy of any government
emerging, just as it challenges the present administration.